Forces loyal to Libya\’s recognized government on Saturday conducted air strikes on targets near the eastern oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Es-Sider to stop an advance by a rival force, officials said.
The clashes are part of a wider struggle in the North African country between competing governments allied to armed factions over control of the vast oil reserves, three-and-a-half years after the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi.
The recognized prime minister Abdullah al-Thinni has been forced to work out of a rump state in the east since a group called Libya Dawn seized the capital in August and set up its own government and parliament.
The oil ports Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, two of Libya\’s biggest, accounting for more than 300,000 barrels a day of exports, were working normally, an oil official said.
Saqer al-Joroushi, an air force commander allied to Thinni, said his aircraft had attacked positions near Sirte, a costal city in central Libya.
He said a rival force from Misrata, a coastal city west of Sirte and the ports, had advanced towards the terminals with a large number of vehicles. "We bombed them to stop them from entering the ports," he said.
A Sirte resident said two air strikes had targeted an air base in the city.
Forces loyal to a rival government in Tripoli launched an operation to take the oil ports and fields and expel forces of former army general Khalifa Haftar allied to Thinni, commander Tarek Eshnaina told Reuters.
"We are a third force commissioned by the chief of staff Abdulsalam Jaddallah and commander-in-chief Nouri Abu Sahmain," he said. Abu Sahman is head of the General National Congress (GNC), a rival parliament based in Tripoli.
"We were about one km from the main gate of Es Sider oil port but we had to withdraw about two kilometers after Haftar\’s warplanes carried out air strikes which killed two of our members and wounded three," he said. "The clashes are sporadic at the moment and we are waiting for supplies from the general chief of staff."
Last month, Libya Dawn took over the big southern El Sharara oilfield.
The eastern oil ports are controlled by troops led by Ibrahim Jathran, who could be seen directing troops during Saturday\’s clashes, according to a video posted on websites close to his group. Jathran has threatened to call for eastern secession should world powers recognize the GNC in Tripoli.